It’s been just over one month since the City of Penticton passed its controversial no sitting or lying on downtown sidewalks bylaw, and, by all accounts, it seems to have deterred loitering the downtown.
According to Tina Siebert, the city’s bylaw supervisor, so far no tickets have been issued for violating the bylaw, which could amount to a $100 fine for an infraction. Instead, bylaw officers have taken an “educative approach and seems to be working so far.”
“We continue to recieve calls to all areas of the city, calls for service have slightly decreased in the downtown core for the past few weeks though,” said Siebert.
But both Siebert and Penticton RCMP Supt. Ted De Jager don’t believe the reduction is the result of solely just the bylaw, with both saying that many of the bylaw offenders have left the area to work in local orchards. They said this trend of people leaving the downtown area to pursue work elsewhere is one the city sees annually.
“From an RCMP perspective, it’s quite common this time of year to see changes in the downtown. We saw the same effect last year as the pickers go to the orchards,” said De Jager. “Most of our local vulnerable or street-entrenched population typically go else where, which is not to say that they’re not downtown. We have noticed a difference as compared to two months ago though.”
De Jager said he thinks this decrease can also be contributed to his officers’ 300 hours of foot patrols since April, and the work they’ve been undertaking with their community partners in the CAST program, and the officer-led CSET program. Both programs aim to connect marginalized individuals with resources and supports, with CAST intervening over 50 high-risk individuals to bring them to support services since it was launched in July 2018.
“Corporal Rock and Constable Grandy have gotten three or four people into treatment through CSET with Interior Health and mental health,” said De Jager. “So some of those real social chronics are not there because they’re in treatment. Which is a really good outcome.”
But the effects of this bylaw haven’t been entirely positive, with the city seeing an increase of displacement of vulnerable individuals, who now utilize other public spaces such as the lawn at the Penticton Public Library. De Jager said asking these people to vacate these spaces is not always possible, but his officers work to build relationships so that when they are asked to leave, they are more likely to oblige.
“We’ve seen this displacement last year as well. But when you push people out of somewhere, they have to go somewhere else. The only reason that the police can physically move somebody is if they are actually breaking the law,” said De Jager. “If they’re not breaking the law, then they only move because we’ve built a relationship with them and we ask them.
“Corporal Laurie Rock and Constable James Grandy have built a great relationship with these people, so they ask them to move and they move. Bylaw has done the same, they’ve built a relationship as well. They move because they feel respected.”
De Jager said ultimately, the solution to vagrancy in the city’s downtown and public spaces is housing. He said residents will soon see a difference in the number of people living on the streets with the recent opening of Compass Courts shelter, and the supportive housing on Winnipeg Street expected to follow suit and open in the fall.